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National Women's Soccer (NWSL)

NWSL commissioner resigns; U.S. Soccer to investigate league

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National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Lisa Baird resigned Friday night in the wake of allegations that she failed to properly investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and other abusive behavior by league coaches.

The league tweeted late Friday night that it “received and accepted Lisa Baird’s resignation as its commissioner.”

Earlier Friday, U.S. Soccer announced it was launching an independent investigation into the NWSL in the wake of allegations against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, who was fired Thursday following a report detailing sexual misconduct toward his players over several years.

Also Friday, the NWSL postponed this weekend’s matches, and The Athletic reported that NWSL general counsel Lisa Levine was removed from her job.

U.S. Soccer said it is working to identify someone to lead the investigation, and the results will be shared with the public upon its conclusion.

“We take seriously our responsibility to vigorously investigate the abhorrent behavior that has been reported and gain a full and frank understanding of the factors that allowed it to happen, and the changes that should be made to make sure it does not happen again,” a U.S. Soccer statement said, in part.

FIFA said in a statement Friday that it has opened a preliminary investigation into the accusations as well.

“As part of this, FIFA will be reaching out to the respective parties, including U.S. Soccer and NWSL, for further information about the various safeguarding concerns and allegations of abuse that have been raised,” FIFA’s statement said, in part.

“When it comes to misconduct in football, we would like to reiterate that FIFA’s position is clear: anyone found guilty of misconduct and abuse in football shall be brought to justice, sanctioned and removed from the game.”

On Thursday, reporting by The Athletic called into question whether Baird and the league failed to protect Riley’s alleged victims. When the news first broke, the NWSL Players Association called for an investigation and several high-profile members of the U.S. Women’s National Team — including Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe — criticized the league’s past handling of Riley.

Before her resignation, Baird released a statement on the league’s website.

“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” Baird wrote.

“Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”

Friday’s matches featuring the Washington Spirit at North Carolina and NJ/NY Gotham FC at Racing Louisville FC were postponed. The Orlando Pride’s match at Chicago Red Stars on Saturday also was postponed, along with the Houston Dash’s tilt at Kansas City and OL Reign’s match at Portland Thorns FC.

The Athletic cited more than a dozen of Riley’s former players, including two who went on the record, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, to detail the English coach’s pattern of behavior. Riley was alleged to have coerced Farrelly and other players to have sex with him, forced players to join in on nights of excessive drinking, sent some of them a lurid picture and manipulated them mentally and emotionally in other ways related to their playing time and status on the team.

Riley, 58, had coached women’s teams since 2006 and began coaching North Carolina in 2017.

Sean Nahas was named interim head coach of the Courage for the remainder of the season.

–Field Level Media

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